Answering my own questions since 2001

Growing Up Without Apple

This is January’s column for the Yaletown View, which, as it turns out, is also syndicated in the Kitsilano View and the Long Beach (as in California) View:

The first computer I ever used was an Apple Macintosh. It was 1986, I was in grade six and bathed in the warm green glow of its monitor. It was the only computer at our school, and the only program I used was an educational fishing game that taught you spelling.

The same year my parents, being prescient about this whole computer business, brought home an absurdly large IBM PC with dual floppy drives. Here was a green glow of my very own, and one that hummed like a F-18 on the tarmac. My prepubescent affair with Apple was over before it really began. The school Macintosh had been cuckolded by the IBM in the guest room.

Through most of high school, I spent far too much time in the school computer room. Though Apple owned the educational market in the late eighties, my school
had both Apples and IBMs. Me and the other hardcore nerds turned up our noses at the Apple machines, instead writing simple programs on the IBMs. At the same time, Apple Mactintoshes were becoming the computer of choice for ‘artsy professionals’ such as publishers and designers. Through the nineties, I believed that only two kinds of people used Apple computers-snobs and students.

Then something changed. Early in the 21st century, Apple found mainstream cool. You can probably trace this shift back to 1997, when founder Steve Jobs rejoined the company after being away for twelve years. Apple has always designed attractive computers, but the late nineties saw the introduction of the colourful iMac desktop and iBook laptop computers. Apples became the de facto choice for the film and television industry. In Mission Impossible, Tom Cruise fights traitorous spies with the help of his PowerBook. More recently, the ad agency where Halle Berry’s character works in Catwoman was festooned with massive 23-inch Apple monitors. I know this not because I saw the movie, but because I bought one off the set for an unholy discount.

Then came the iPod and the iTunes music store. These innovations have probably done more for Apple’s image than any product in its history. They are the first
relics of the digital music revolution. Most importantly, Apple owns the mindshare of consumers. When the average shopper thinks ‘digital music player’, they think
‘iPod’. When they want to buy music online, they think ‘iTunes’. That’s a remarkable achievement, and a testament to the company’s product development and marketing departments. The first time I held an iPod in my hand, I felt like I was holding the future.

The average Apple user is changing, too. My parents seriously considered buying one when they downsized. More surprisingly, most of my smartest, nerdiest friends are Apple users. These are the guys who like to get under the hood and mess around with a computer’s internal organs. You’d expect them to prefer a Unix or Linux machine. Instead, they’ve chosen Apple for superior security, stability and design. They may occasionally want to get under the hood (and Apple, for
the most part, lets them do so), but mostly they just want a computer that works.

The Apple computer is never going to be a world-beater. Currently, Apple’s marketshare sits at a measly 3%. There is some hope, though. My generation grew
up with Apple Macintoshes in the classroom. In adulthood, more and more of us are returning to our roots.

14 Responses to “Growing Up Without Apple”

  1. double-plus-ungood

    Green glow from a Macintosh monitor? Are you sure? The Apple II+, Apple IIe, et al had a green glow, but the Mac was a black and white system.

  2. Jeff

    Yeah I remember most of grade 6 being spent with an Apple IIe – I loved that thing. I was even sorry when christmas holidays came, because it meant that, for two-weeks, I’d have to go without a computer.

    I can’t say I care much for Macs now though. I know some people swear by them – but a windows machine is often less expensive, and just as easy to use.
    The only reason security is not much of an issue is not so much the inherent security design, so much as it is the fact that if you want to make an impact from hacking of writing viruses, you are not going to do so by targeting that 3% Mac market.

  3. Travis

    As of today, Symantec anti-virus protects against 68,608 Windows viruses. Mac’s 3% market share ought to lead to about 3% of that number: 2,000 or so viruses. Instead, there is (to my knowledge) not a single recent Mac virus other than variations of those spread in Microsoft Office documents.

    I can’t believe that every single virus writer has decided not to bother to earn the publicity and prestige that would come with writing a successful virus for the Mac, all because they sneer at its market share. After all, there are many viruses that spread in smaller sub-communities of the Windows world, relying on programs that are installed by only a small fraction of the Windows world. I use both systems every day, and Mac’s security out of the box is far better than Windows — though SP2 does make some good strides to protect a flawed basic security design.

    For an excellent opinion about why Windows has so many viruses, as well as spyware and adware, and Mac doesn’t, visit http://daringfireball.net/2004/06/broken_windows

    And yeah, I loved the Apple IIe as well. PEEKing and POKEing and making it beep in random patterns.

  4. Chris

    Small nitpick: The reason that a lot of your nerdy programmer friends are getting an Apple “instead of a Unix or Linux machine” is because a new Apple IS a unix machine (FreeBSD / Mach cross). I know a lot of programmers who have switched over to OSX machines because of this – nice interface that lets you get to the guts of things if you want to. I’m thinking of getting an iBook for my portable development box, mostly because I can run an insane amount of X11 / POSIX apps natively.

  5. double-plus-ungood

    And yeah, I loved the Apple IIe as well. PEEKing and POKEing and making it beep in random patterns.

    I never owned one of those newfangled IIes, the II+ was where it was at. Mixed case was for effete snobs. :-)

    I certainly did enough PEEKing and POKEing myself, mostly to load sprites.

  6. Jeff

    The things I remember most about that IIe:
    -A silly program called LOGO – enter the correct coordinates and it draws you a picture – it was like an awkward etch-a-sketch.
    -Some text based game where you were a wagon driving settler making your way through the 19th century northwest – always having to buy medicine and food (Oregon Trail?).
    -Programming text based games that me and my friends would play instead of talking to girls. So sad.

  7. Mike

    I’m a fairly hardcore computer user – I daily run a variety of OSes (Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, and Windows) on an even greater variety of machines. Mostly this is because of my job, but partially because I believe in best tool for the task. But if I had to choose just one of those computers to use all day every day, it’d be my Powerbook. (I’ll admit, I mostly only keep my Windows PC for games.) It’s everything – pretty GUI that mostly works for me, easily-accessed decent CLI, tcsh, runs X apps if need be, and yummy FreeBSD underneath it all. I don’t care about security so much (I don’t even like ipfw very much), because I believe that any competent administrator can secure a machine regardless of OS – although Windows makes it a bit more difficult. :)

    Before OS X, Macs would never have even occurred to me.

  8. Reed

    The new Macs definitely have their place. I do a lot of vinyl graphics on a Rolland Lg format plotter/printer and The G5 I use is about 20 times faster than my Pc.

  9. Jack

    If you ever want to play some of your old favorite Apple ][ games (Castle Wolfenstein, Taipan, Karateka) on your OS X Mac, give OSXII a try…

    (and you can get disk images from the Asimov Apple II Archive)

  10. Rob

    Interestingly enough, the rumour de jour is that Apple will be announcing a sub-$600 ($US) Mac, sans monitor, in about a week. The goal of this machine is to capitalize on all of the Windows users who have fallen in love with their iPods, but never wanted to spend the big dollars to buy a Mac. I also think that there are many users, like Darren, who have early memories of using Apple computers who may be willing to try an Apple machine if it was inexpensive.

    I’m also a potential buyer of such a Mac (if it does truly exist). I have been an Apple user since Darren and I began arguing about this in the 7th grade, and although I use a Windows laptop for work, I love my Mac. My biggest problem is that my Mac needs updating, but I work so much that to invest $2000+ into a new home machine that won’t get used very often, is a silly investment. But, $600 or so…. not bad.

  11. Seed Reno

    Yes, the first Macs were black and white, but the screen had a bluish tinge to it (that I seem to recall was intended to simulate more closely the color of white paper to ease the transition into the desktop metaphor).

  12. Gaz

    Green glow of your own?

    You may have used an Apple, but no Mac has ever glowed green.

    Flawed argument there my son

  13. eric

    “Mac’s 3% market share ought to lead to about 3% of that number: 2,000 or so viruses. Instead, there is (to my knowledge) not a single recent Mac virus other than variations of those spread in Microsoft Office documents.”

    Minor point, but that’s pretty spurious reasoning. Students of “bazaar”-theory could tell you that you could more reasonably expect a very small number of Mac viruses because there’s no payoff — nobody would write any, in other words, until the platform becomes popular. Then, once you pass a certain tipping point, you’ll see a hockey-stick curve.

    There’s also a security-related error in the main piece. OS X is absolutely not more secure than Linux or Unix, as implied toward the end of the piece. As any real *nix geek can tell you, *nix security is a matter of execution. And OS X’s security execution (by which I refer to its default settings) has been found wanting more often than not. It’s quite possible to make it very, very secure; out of the box, it’s really protected only by the realtive obscurity of its interfaces.

  14. eric

    Oh, and, re. the “green glow”: By 1986, there were color-screen macs. I know the 9″ Macs were gray-screen — I used one for years. But since we don’t know what the color of the screen was on that spelling application, let’s all give the guy a break, eh?

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